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The Drug Runners: Meet the Legends Behind Chalk Cartel

Behind the rebel cottage brand’s satirical exterior, you’ll find struggle, parody, and decades of American climbing history.

Timy Fairfield was doing a pretty good job of keeping his obscenities to himself. He was at the airport, in the international terminal, watching yet again as the TSA tore apart his bags. 

This was the early 2000s. By then, Fairfield was a frequent flyer and had competed in dozens of international climbing competitions—World Cups, the X-Games, you name it. Back then, airport security was very interested in drug trafficking and very ill-equipped to do anything about it. After all, this was before the advent of quick-swab chemical tests. Any white powder, like say, magnesium carbonate dusted on a pair of climbing pants or the outside of a gym duffel, was a red flag in the TSA handbook. Fairfield’s punk look—shoulder-length hair and necklaces of knotted black steel—probably didn’t help his case, either. 

At the time, Fairfield was traveling with Brandi Proffitt, then a fellow routesetter. (Today, they’re life/business partners and co-owners of gym consulting firm Futurist Climbing and chalk brand Chalk Cartel). Proffitt and Fairfield were both at the forefront of American climbing, some of the first Americans to dominate on the international competition stage. Fairfield competed in over 100 international events, taking gold in speed, bouldering, and lead events alike; Proffitt won bouldering championships in 2003 and 2006 and was ranked among the top 10 US female boulders from 2001 to 2005. 

Chalk Cartel owners and climbing chalk experts Timy and Brandi pose crouched on a beach in Hawaii, a dark overhung cliff behind them.
A portrait of the owners, Nā Pali Coast, Kauai, HI.

But back then in America, no number of medals and no amount of forearm vascularization could impress the TSA. Between competitions, full-luggage searches were a constant.

And yet, despite the inconvenience (Fairfield might have a stronger term), there was something about getting singled out that he and Proffitt kind of got a kick out of. After all, that’s what climbing was about in the early days—being misunderstood and sticking it to the man. Things were all a little rock ‘n’ roll. In some ways, getting stopped in the airport just felt like part of the game.

Skipping School

Fairfield ultimately became the first American to flash V10 (Left Martini Roof in Hueco Tanks, TX) and the first person on earth to flash V11 (Future Eaters in Branson, Switzerland). He also went on to nab first ascents of sport routes and boulders throughout the southwest, including Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy (5.14 b/c) and Saadhu (V14) in New Mexico. But the pursuit of the cutting edge wasn’t necessarily the reason he got started with the sport

“Back in my generation, climbing was a great activity if you liked skipping school,” Fairfield laughs. 

Fairfield grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That’s where he first started climbing with his uncle, Raymond Holland, when he was five years old. It started as a way for Holland to spend time with his nephew and teach him Spanish (Fairfield is a quarter Spanish and Holland’s wife was a Spanish immigrant). But by age 12, climbing began to supplant all Fairfield’s other extra-curriculars. He spent every spare minute training. Or, at least, trying to.

Climbing chalk company founder Timy Fairfield boulders in New Zealand.
Timy Fairfield Bouldering at Castle Hill, New Zealand

“I knew what I had to do. There was just nowhere to do it back then,” Fairfield says. “I’d go buildering at lunch in high school.” After all, this was well before the advent of indoor climbing gyms. Anything you wanted to train, you had to build yourself.

“We would also find illegal routes on highway underpasses.” Proffitt recalls. “It was really ridiculous. The police would run you out.” 

Though Proffitt didn’t discover climbing until college, her story was similar.

“I’d studied ballet for 12 years and was looking for something new,” she says. When a friend got Proffitt into climbing, she was immediately hooked. “My second year of college, my grades just tanked. I started to bail on class to go climbing all the time,” she laughs. “My parents were not psyched.”

Climbing Chalk company founder Brandi Proffitt climbs in the X games, hanging from two red holds.
Brandi Proffitt competing at the 2006 Asian X-Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

That was in 1993. Proffitt applied her ballerina’s discipline and immediately started rocketing through the ranks. (Eventually, she also started going to class again and managed to graduate on time from the University of California Irvine.) By the mid 1990s, she was competing at a national level and setting for one of the first gyms in Southern California, Rockreation. At the time, she was one of only a handful of female route setters in the nation.

“Enjoy the Coffee”

Proffitt and Fairfield met on the PCA (Professional Climbers Association) competition circuit in 2001 and found they worked well together. Soon, they were route-setting at the ESPN X-Games Asia and running climbing training camps across the U.S.  In 2011 they got married.

Throughout, the joke about trafficking white powder remained a constant. Fairfield and Proffitt even had a sponsor, Cordless and Revolution founder Clark Shelk, who would send them large chalk orders wrapped in brown paper, strapped with tape into bricks, and hidden within bags of coffee beans. They’d come with tongue-in-cheek notes: Enjoy the coffee. They were certain Shelk’s twisted humor was going to get them into trouble. 

But over time, the joke grew to mean something bigger—a nod to the counterculture roots of American climbing. Proffitt and Fairfield floated the idea of selling their own brand of chalk wrapped Shelk-style in brown paper. Friends jumped on the idea. It became a recurring dinner topic, passed around the table with a bottle of wine. 

Soon, the idea began to take a more distinct shape. After all, Proffitt and Fairfield had spent a lifetime relying on chalk. From Proffitt’s rigorous ballet training to Fairfield’s record-breaking bouldering to their shared experience setting sloper problems for the X-Games in the dripping humidity of southeast Asia—if anyone was an expert in chalk quality, they were.

Proffitt and Fairfield realized they could put together a company that ticked all the boxes: They could at once provide premium-level chalk without the ridiculous markup they were seeing elsewhere in the market and share the original, defiant soul of climbing with new generations of climbers.

Plus, by this point, they both knew the climbing industry inside and out. Timy and Brandi had launched Futurist Climbing Consultants together in 2009. Before that, they worked with big brands on a number of projects, including building out Madrock’s global athlete team and designing their Drone shoe, and creating custom holds for Revolution, Nicros, and Straight Up, among others. 

The Founding of a Cartel  

So Proffitt and Fairfield teamed up with a friend, Ted Geving, in 2017 and together founded Chalk Cartel. With Geving, the team developed the brand and logo and designed packaging plastered with nods to New Mexican history, from the road runner drawn in an indigenous Mexican Aztec style, to the small printed “1680,” which references the year of the successful Pueblo Revolt. 

The brand’s look and voice, like everything in the early days of climbing, was a community effort, Fairfield says. “There were a lot of other brands we looked to for inspiration,” he explains. Among them: hold maker Straight Up and apparel company Ropegun. 

“Overall, it was important for us to do what we thought was fun or funny,” he adds. “We’re serious about our work, but laughter is important.”   

That’s something both Proffitt and Fairfield learned the hard way on the competition circuit.

“For both of us, keeping a sense of humor is important for balance. When you’re so focused on training for competition or starting a business, or really anything in your life, you can lose that balance if you don’t find an outlet to help you laugh every once in a while,” Proffitt says.

Lucien Starzynski at the Chalk Cartel Manufacturing Facility

The Real Fix

Today, Chalk Cartel strives to be that outlet—for its owners and for the rest of the climbing community. It’s a time capsule for the irreverent style that first drew Fairfield and Proffitt to climbing culture in the first place. It’s also a nod to the company’s home base, New Mexico—the same setting for the iconic Breaking Bad series. To that end, the product comes wrapped in brown paper. It’s sold by the Quarter or the Kilo (or in a 5-gallon bucket called—you guessed it—The Bucket.) The chalk subscription plan is called the Monthly Bump. Fairfield’s official title is chief collusive conspirator and provocateur; Proffitt’s is queen bee of finance.  

But at the same time, Chalk Cartel is dedicated to giving back through initiatives like their sustainable packaging (they use 100% recycled paper for some products and 100% compostable packaging for others) and programs like the Heroes Discount for healthcare workers, emergency responders, law enforcement, and military. 

And while the product hasn’t gotten any climbers pulled aside at the airport recently, throwing a Kilo in your luggage is always good for a smirk. And that, at the end of the day, is the real fix.